Not many hotels have as their USP a readymade vehicle in which to propose marriage. Amsterdam’s five-star boutique hotel, The Dylan, is hoping to top the proposals chart with the ultimate romantic backdrop: a private canal boat, twinkling lights, soft slap of water, dinner served by a Michelin-starred chef and Frank Sinatra belting out into the still night air. How could a girl say no?
The Dylan already has an international reputation for its elegant yet friendly restaurant, Vinkeles, which is reassuringly full of locals, but its boat, ‘Vinkeles on the Water’, is something else. The Muze actually seats four – ideal for a discreet business lunch or a birthday as well as a soppy couple – and even has its own loo.
Chef Dennis Kuipers, who is almost disappointingly jovial in the kitchen, is a cheerful and non-egotistical presence, calmly pulling off exquisite, balanced food-edible cocktails, black truffle, pigeon, pineapple and beetroot mosaic-that leaves you satisfied but not with that horrible full feeling that can be such a downside to a long-awaited expensive meal.
However, there are less expensive ways to be romantic in Amsterdam. In a compact city of 765,000 people and 11,500 bicycles, including those for hire, this is the stylish way to get about. In contrast to the fraught world of London cycling, no one was aggressive or wore Lycra – or a helmet; there was no jumping the lights, boy racing or shouting at pedestrians, and the bicycles, some with flower garlands, looked sweetly old-fashioned.
Nowadays, Amsterdammers are quite irritated and embarrassed by visitors’ puerile fascination for the red-light district, which is now considerably diminished and surely the antithesis of romance. They prefer tourists to appreciate the 150km of canals, the abundance of art – the Van Gogh Museum (a pleasant 20-minute walk from the Dylan) did not disappoint, although Sunflowers is surprisingly naff close-up and I preferred his landscapes, especially of the forest, or the allotments at Montmartre – and history.
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The Dutch Resistance Museum is recommended and Anne Frank’s house (10 minutes from the Dylan) – or, rather, the claustrophobic apartment above the jam factory where the family was incarcerated for two years – is moving and well done. The charity has resisted the temptation to make it kitsch, and it remains a monument to fighting apartheid. There is no queue if you go in the evening.
Amsterdam is one of the most achievable citybreak destinations, for it is a mere 45-minute flight with KLM from Heathrow (prices start at around £98). Next year, Eurostar is opening a direct line, and there’s more to look forward to with what should be a fascinating new canals museum and the long-awaited opening of the Rijsmuseum with its unparalleled collection of Flemish art.
The Dylan, all stripped oak floors and squashy sofas, has a 500-year history of its own. The building was originally a theatre – Vivaldi conducted its orchestra in 1737 and visitors included the Prince of Orange – and, after a fire in 1772, it had many guises, including a poor persons’ charity, before it became a hotel in 1999. The rooms are stylish and deliciously comfortable, notably the Dylan Thomas room with its pink sofa and the atmospheric attic rooms with their cosy, deluxe bathrooms under the eaves.
So, for the ultimate in wooing, book the Dylan’s special St Valentine’s break, including a seven-course dinner in Vinkeles, from €740. On less super-charged weekends, double rooms start at €325 per night; Vinkeles on the Water costs €925 for four hours and the seven-course menu is €185 per person. To book, visit http://dylanamsterdam.com.
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